Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 295

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

At heated town hall, Gus Bilirakis once again hears overwhelming sentiment to improve — not repeal — the Affordable Care Act

For the second consecutive Saturday, Tampa Bay U.S. Representative Gus Bilirakis waded into a lion’s den of sorts, hosting a town hall meeting that was dominated by those pleading with him to vote to improve – but not replace – the Affordable Care Act.

As hundreds crammed into the West Pasco Government Center in Florida’s 12th Congressional District (with at least another hundred listening to the meeting via an audio transmission outside the chambers), the atmosphere was at times raucous and rude, although the audience was overwhelmingly dominated by Democrats and supporters of the health care law.

It’s a scene that’s playing out throughout the country, as Republicans are being met with fervent Democratic activism, a level at which has not been seen in decades. The energy has been compared to the Tea Party rebellion that flared up during the town hall meetings that Democrats held eight years ago when rolling out the ACA, with one of the most infamous being a Kathy Castor town hall in Ybor City that made national headlines.

Bilirakis is on record as voting to repeal the Affordable Act Act, but he expressed sympathy with those who are worried about the uncertainty of what comes next, now that the Republicans control all branches of the federal government and are charging full ahead of doing something different with the health care system.

“We do have some bills that are filed. However, the replacement bill has not been filed,” the Tarpon Springs Republican admitted in his opening remarks to the crowd. “There is a blueprint. But that’s why were here to add to that blueprint, and that’s why I want to hear your personal stories — how Obamacare has affected you.”

But using the “O” word was a mistake to many of the Democrats in the room, who began shouting at him.

“Okay, excuse me, the ACA,” he corrected himself, while noting that Nancy Pelosi (and Barack Obama himself) has referred to the 2010 law as Obamacare.

Bill Akins, the secretary of the Pasco County Republican Executive Committee further inflamed the crowd when he brought up one of the issues that ignited Tea Party activists at town hall meetings back in 2009 – the famed “death panels.”

“There is a provision in there, that anyone over the age of 74, has to go before, what is effectively, a death panel-“

As soon as Akins finished pronouncing “panel,” the crowd erupted into arguably the loudest amount of jeering from the two hour meeting.

“OK, children. Alright, children,” Akins stated, mocking the crowd (The segment was shown throughout the day on CNN).

A few moments later, 77-year-old Pat Seeley told Akins he was full of it.

“I think it is unconscionable for this politician to tell me at 74, I will be facing death panels.”

It should be noted that PolitiFact judged the death panels argument as the “Lie of the Year” in 2009.

Immediately following Akins to the mic was Beverly Ledbetter, the secretary for the Pasco County Democratic Executive Committee. She thanked Bilirakis for “having the courage” to host a town hall, which “so many of your compatriots are cancelling.” But she said it wasn’t enough for the six-term congressman to listen to his constituents. No, she said, it was incumbent on him to act on what the voters were saying.

“I’m asking that you make a commitment to us and you act the way that we, the people who elected you and sent you to Washington D.C. to be our voice, and to vote according to the directions that we have, and not the line of the Republican Party,” Ledbetter said.

Although there were plenty of speakers who sang the praises of Obama’s signature domestic achievement, there were several others who acknowledged that improvements were essential to improving the ACA, though the underlying message to Bilirakis was not to dismantle it without something similar in scope.

Like President Trump and many other Republicans, Bilirakis said he wants to retain the bill’s most popular provisions: no more discriminating against pre-existing conditions; no more lifetime caps; and keeping people under 26 years of age on their parents policy.

The chief nemesis called out by the ACA supporters at the meeting wasn’t Republicans, but the health care industry, followed by the pharmaceutical industry.

Sitting in a wheelchair, Ellen Floriani said that she was hit with a hospital bill of $98,000, but because of Medicare, it was negotiated down to $6,000, with her co-pay only $1,000. “Those of you under 65, don’t you wish you had that kind of coverage?” she asked, adding that everybody could get that type of coverage if a Medicare-for-all (i.e., single payer) system was implemented, a sentiment several other people suggested as well.

It wasn’t all nastiness. One speaker said Congress should look at adding an excise tax on marijuana purchases. “There’s a lot of states now selling marijuana for recreational use, and this is an excise tax to plug the hole and subsidize the deductibles that people have.”

The crowd wasn’t devoid of Republicans who proudly said they supported Donald Trump for president.

“My request to you is to rip the Obamacare bill, the way it is now, to shreds,” asked Pete Franco to Bilirakis. “There’s plenty of people obviously who like Obamacare, but there’s a massive amount who don’t.”

“Alternative news,” yelled an ACA fan from the back.

And so it went. Bilirakis promised to hold a third town hall meeting soon, at a place to be determined.

While he was earning plaudits from even his sternest critics for facing the heat on the issue, countless Democrats managed to sneak in a diss to another prominent Florida Republican not in attendance.

“Where’s Marco?” was a refrain heard throughout the morning. Democrats contend Senator Marco Rubio has been AWOL in even having staffers answer calls in his Washington or local district offices over the past couple of weeks.

Vern Buchanan predicts completion of GOP tax plan by August

An excited Vern Buchanan took to Fox Business News Channel Friday morning, predicting that a major tax reform bill will come out of the House of Representatives by the time Congress breaks for summer recess.

“The stars have aligned,” the Sarasota GOP congressman told anchor Charles Payne.

“I can just tell you, we’ve been working on this for the last six and a half years, but we’re very focused in the last three to four months, and as some of this gets out to more of the communities and various individuals, you’re going to get some feedback, but I’m very pro-growth,” he said.

“This is going to be a very pro-growth tax policy that I’m confident will get done, ideally by August, that’s the game plan. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Speaker [Paul] Ryan as well in the past six years, and I have a lot of confidence that we’re going to get this done.”

Buchanan serves on the House Ways & Means Committee, which is currently working on legislation based on a tax-reform proposal that House Republicans offered last June. The plan includes a border adjustment tax that has been somewhat problematic with GOP Senators.

On a proposed 20 percent tax on all imports, Georgia Sen. David Perdue called it “regressive, hammers consumers and shuts down economic growth.”

Several other Republicans have also expressed concerns about such a border adjustment tax.

On Thursday, President Trump said a “phenomenal” plan to overhaul business taxes might be released within the next “two or three weeks,” without offering any details, saying simply that his plans call for “lowering the overall tax burden of American businesses, big league.”

Buchanan hopes the reform plans will include full, immediate expensing for business equipment, which would let businesses immediately deduct expenses from their income.

“The idea that you can write off an asset the first year, a piece of equipment that’s $5 million the first year, is a big creates a lot of excitement for a lot of people in business,” Buchanan enthused.

Last year Buchanan offered up legislation aimed at ensuring that small businesses don’t pay higher rates than corporations. His plans called for lowering the rate for noncorporate businesses to 25 percent. Trump’s tax plan during the presidential campaign would provide a 15-percent rate for “all businesses, both small and large, that want to retain the profits within the business.”

 

Ted Deutch co-sponsors two bills to protect immigrants

South Florida Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch has introduced two bills this week that would protect immigrants from fraud schemes and ensure that they are informed of their legal rights.

The Protecting Immigrants from Legal Exploitation Act (H.R. 912) would impose a fine and possible jail sentence for offering fraudulent immigration legal services. The Immigrant Detainee Legal Rights Act (H.R. 913) would require immigration detention centers to inform immigrant detainees of their legal rights within five days of their arrival at the facilities.

“Immigrant communities are extremely vulnerable to fraudulent legal services schemes,” said Deutch. “These scams are financially costly, can derail complex cases, and can result in people being deported. Also, many immigrants are unaware of their rights as they are processed through high stakes deportation proceedings. These bills will help crack down on fraudulent legal services schemes and ensure that people know their rights as they navigate complex deportation proceedings.”

Deutch is co-sponsring the two bills with Illinois Democratic Representative Bill Foster.

“It may be easy for anyone to fall prey to deceptive practices. Even worse, many immigrants are unable to stay in this country or legally return due to fraudulent or negligent legal services,” said Foster. “We need to make sure these individuals are aware of their legal rights in this country and are not defrauded when they seek to enter this country legally. I am proud to work with Congressman Deutch so that everyone is aware of their rights in this country.”

The legislation is being introduced less than two weeks after President Trump signed an executive order dubbed “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”  It’s a dramatic reversal of the policies on immigration set forth by Barack Obama.

The order specifically names “aliens who have been convicted of any criminal offense; have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved; have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense; have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency; have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits; are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.”

Deutch and Foster’s bills have been endorsed by the National Immigration Forum and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

 

Jason Brodeur introduces autonomous vehicle legislation in Florida House

Sanford House Republican Jason Brodeur announced Thursday he filed a bill related to autonomous vehicles.

HB 275 would streamline the process for rue self-driving vehicles on public roads in Florida.

“With more than 90 percent of crashes in 2015 being the result of human error, autonomous vehicles have the potential to eliminate this error and transform the way we travel,” Brodeur said in a statement.  “I am proud to support HB 725 this session, as Florida is largely recognized as the nation’s leader in autonomous vehicle public policy.  But in order to maintain this position and encourage companies to begin testing and deploying in the Sunshine State, we must address the current laws governing motor vehicle operation that never contemplated a driverless future.”

As Brodeur mentioned, Florida is considered on the cutting edge when it comes to autonomous vehicle policy, strongly led by St. Petersburg GOP Senator Jeff Brandes, an unbridled enthusiast for the technology. Brandes originally sponsored legislation in 2012 encouraging the testing and study of automated vehicles in Florida.

Last year the Florida Legislature unanimously backed HB 7027, Brandes bill that made Florida the first state in the nation to legalize fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver behind the wheel. “That’s a game changer,” Brandes said this past November in Tampa at an autonomous vehicle summit, claiming that the law makes every 30-year plan created by various state and local agencies “wrong.”

Joint auditing committee review hears mixed review of Enterprise Florida’s success rate over the past decade

After the Florida Legislature denied Governor Rick Scott’s $250 million in incentive funding for Enterprise Florida, Scott called for a financial review and audit for the agency, which House Speaker Richard Corcoran has declared he wants to kill during this year’s legislative session.

On Thursday, officials with the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) provided commentary on their recent audit of the private-public partnership before the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee on Thursday.

The appearance came a day after a House committee voted to kill Enterprise Florida, along with Visit Florida, the  the state’s tourism marketing group that received $76 million in funding this year.

Plant City House Republican Dan Raulerson wanted to know if there was a way to compare how well Florida is doing in using tax incentives to recruit businesses compared to other states?

“One of the analysis we did shows that Florida does not rank as favorably with respect to competitive states when you look at just the targeted industries,” said Laila Racevskis, a senior legislative analyst with OPPAGA. She added that her office also compared Florida on major economic indicators.

The analyses included six qualified target industries—manufacturing; wholesale trade; information; finance and insurance; professional, scientific, and technical services; and Management of Companies and Enterprises. From 2006 to 2015, Florida experienced employment growth in two of six industry sectors: Management of Companies and Enterprises (31%) and Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services (12.5%). Of the comparison states, Florida ranked fourth in Manufacturing and third in Management of Companies and Enterprises. Texas received a first place ranking in five of six industry sectors.

According to EFI financial data, state funding has always far exceeded private sector funding. Private sector cash contributions during OPPAGA’s review period rarely exceeded $2 million, while state appropriations averaged about $20 million per year.

Naples Republican Senator Kathleen Passadomo asked how would Florida if they didn’t do any type of incentive program to recruit businesses?

“Our analysis did not try to make a direct correlation between the programs that we have and the outcomes presented in the analysis,” said Racevskis. “The analysis is intended to provide some context to compare with respect to job creation and wages in those particular industries.”

Referring to Corcoran, Passadomo said that it was apparent that “some people want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” but that the analysis shows that with needed improvements, Enterprise Florida could be more effective.

Brad Drake, Blaise Ingoglia want lying candidates pay some type of price

During your average election cycle in Florida (and around the country), there are always some egregious examples of dirty campaigning.

Sometimes, they can decide an election.

Examples abound, but generally, there is little recourse for an injured candidate, other than to try to rebut the negative message via advertising or comments to the media.

Brad Drake thinks that’s wrong, and he’d like to do something about it.

At Thursday’s House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee, the DeFuniak Springs Republican asked state election officials what recourse is there when a candidate is subjected to “malicious” comments from his opponent?

“If a candidate defines the opposition as being one who shoots peanut butter up their veins, or if they put malicious statements on Facebook and say ‘candidate A is a heroin addict,’ “Drake asked. “What is the resource of the opposing candidate?”

Amy Toman, executive director of the Florida Elections Commission, said that a candidate can always file a complaint with her organization.

Spring Hill Republican Blaise Ingoglia said the real problem with such negative and false allegations is the extensive delays between reporting an elections violation and the time the commission addresses it.

“If somebody is talking about peanut butter and veins, then they know that it is a political calculation, knowing that the time you all rule, the election is over,” said Ingoglia. He’d like a “fast-track process” where if a candidate sends out false information, the other candidate can file a complaint and get a response from the election commission within five business days.

Ingoglia posited that “vile speech” is protected by the First Amendment, but said that “false speech should be protected at least by the courts.”

Toman explained that there is no statute currently to expedite such investigations. Currently, the Florida Elections Commission only meets every three months to review such complaints.

“So, you would basically have to be lucky that you’re being attacked or smeared right before an election commission meeting,” Ingoglia said sarcastically. He asked if Toman could provide information as to the average time it takes such a resolution to be completed. She said she would research and get back to Ingoglia with that information.

Drake said he was also bothered that when a candidate who does not meet the minimum qualifications files to run for office, he or she is essentially committing perjury and asked if there was a statue of limitation on candidates in Florida who did that.

Toman said that there is a provision in state election law that prohibits anyone from swearing a false oath in connection with elections, but emphasized that “we don’t have any criminal jurisdiction,” so the elections commissions could not charge anyone with a felony. Drake said he wanted to get the agency to investigate that issue as well.

Ultimately, Drake stated that he and Ingoglia might begin working on legislation to reform the current system regarding false campaign reports.

“Only if there’s lots of peanut butter involved,” Ingoglia quipped.

Plantation Democrat Katie Edwards added that “if you’re going to impugn someone’s credibility, you better have the information and documents to back it up, and not just throw something out there like so-and-so is a terrorist, so and so is a wife beater, so and so is a heroin addict.”

Politics, food and fun: Florida State Fair kicks off

With a mix of old and new, the annual Florida State Fair kicks off Thursday.

In addition to obligatory references to artery-clogging fair fare by local reporters (Deep-fried butter! Spaghetti Ice Cream!), Opening Day of the Fair is the setting for the yearly Governors Day Luncheon, where every man and women in Hillsborough County who is even thinking of running for office in 2018 already have their ticket.

All Cabinet members are expected to appear, with Gov. Rick Scott scheduled to give the keynote speech, as will Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, already considered to be looking ahead to succeeding Scott in the governor’s mansion in 2018.

For the second consecutive year, there will be no formal Cabinet meeting, formerly part and parcel of activities of the Fair’s first day.

Last year, the meeting was canceled outright because of a lack of urgent business with state agencies.

The last time the Cabinet did meet at the Fair was in February 2015, with plenty of drama as it was the first time that Scott had to answer to Putnam, Pam Bondi and Jeff Atwater over the ousting of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

After a one-year absence, what has returned this year is a new super slide; in the past, both Putnam and Bondi have slid down in a post-luncheon tradition/photo-op.

Originally called “The Super Bowl Toboggan,” the mega slide was first unveiled in Times Square in the lead up to the 2014 Super Bowl. The Italian-made slide is 60 feet tall and 180 feet long and contains an LED package that gives off a light show at night.

Charlie Crist wants Trump administration to look into voter suppression, disenfranchisement

Democrats skeptical about President Trump‘s repeated claims of voter fraud in last November’s election are now challenging him to add voter suppression and disenfranchisement to his administration’s pending investigation.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Trump told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that Vice President Mike Pence will be in charge of a commission to probe what he believes was voter fraud in the election, despite a consensus among state officials, election experts — and both Democrats and Republicans — that voter fraud is extremely rare in the U.S.

“I’m going to set up a commission to be headed by Vice President Pence and we’re going to look at it very, very carefully,” Trump told O’Reilly in an interview taped Friday.

Seizing on that, Congressman Charlie Crist and 75 other Democrats are signing on to a letter originally penned by Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, Alabama’s Terri Sewell and Washington’s Derek Kilmer calling for an evaluation of state voter restrictions in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida. Those states bar individuals with past felony convictions from voting unless they are able to meet a burdensome clemency requirement. This law has led to the disenfranchisement of an estimated 1.5 million Floridians. 

“Unsubstantiated voter fraud claims are being used as cover to enact policies aimed at disenfranchising certain voters — something Floridians are all too familiar with,” said Crist, the first-term St. Petersburg Democrat. “Voter suppression efforts are an attack on our democracy. I will fight to protect access to the voting booth, including for nonviolent former felons. It’s a matter of civil rights and fundamental fairness.”

“Voter suppression efforts are an attack on our democracy,” Crist added. “I will fight to protect access to the voting booth, including for nonviolent former felons. It’s a matter of civil rights and fundamental fairness.”

Clearly upset about the fact that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by more than 2.8 million votes, Trump has steadfastly maintained that if it weren’t for voter fraud, he would have won the popular vote on November 8.

Despite that refrain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday show that while election fraud does occur, “there is no evidence that it occurred in such a significant number that would have changed the presidential election.”

Trump’s focus seems intent only on looking at what happened in November, so the Democrats call for a look into other voting issues will unlikely find a sympathetic audience. Nevertheless, it gives them the opportunity to get out their beliefs that there are sustained, legalized measures in place currently that intentionally suppress the vote.

Bill Nelson says any attempt to intimidate scientists ‘must be stopped’

In its first week in office, the Trump administration froze new scientific grants at the Environmental Protection Agency. That fueled concerns amongst some in the scientific community that it will be a rough four years in Washington.

Since the presidential election, more than 5,000 scientists, including many Nobel Prize winners, have signed an open letter urging President Trump and Congress to preserve scientific integrity. and there may be a major “March for Science” taking place on Earth Day in Washington later this spring.

Now, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and a number of his Democratic colleagues are weighing in, with a bill aimed at protecting government scientists from political interference.

“Few things are more un-American than censorship, especially when it would keep the public in the dark on vital public health and safety information, such as climate change and sea level rise,” said Nelson, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.  “Any attempt to intimidate or muzzle scientists must be stopped.”

Some of the provisions of the bill include:

  • Reaffirm the principle of open communication of scientific findings and prevent the suppression of scientific findings;
  • Ensure that scientists are allowed to communicate their findings with the public, press, and Congress;
  • Direct federal agencies to develop scientific integrity policies that include whistleblower protections; and,
  • Require scientific integrity policies to be posted online and given to all new hires

At least 27 other Democratic senators have signed on to the proposal.

House advances bill for statewide ride-sharing regulations

A Florida House committee advanced a bill Wednesday to implement statewide regulations on ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Sponsored by Republicans Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor and Jamie Grant of Tampa, HB 221 addresses issues that have been vexing state lawmakers for the last three Sessions.

If passed, drivers would need to carry insurance coverage worth $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident and $25,000 for property damage when picking up passengers.

Coverage would jump to a minimum of $1 million in coverage in the case of death, bodily injury and property damage while a passenger is in the vehicle.

The issue regarding the level of background checks of ride-sharing drivers has also become a huge matter for various Florida municipalities in the past few years, with representatives for Uber and Lyft adamant that their drivers do not need the same Level II background checks as cabdrivers.

Instead, drivers must have multistate/multijurisdictional criminal background checks, as well as one for the national sex offender database and a complete driving history.

Now that ride-sharing companies have begun working with local transit agencies on paratransit and first mile/last mile rides, the issue of parity remains critical, said Dwight Mattingly, a bus operator from Palm Beach County.

“I’m hoping that it will be recognized that anybody that handles, whether they’re Uber drivers, Lyft drivers or taxi drivers, will be subject to the same training and same knowledge to handle these people that I have,” he said.

The main objections to Uber and Lyft since they began operating in Florida has come from the taxi industry.

“We’re just looking for a level playing field,” said Louie Minardi with the Florida Taxicab Association. His group still has concerns about the bill, both regarding insurance and working with the requirements of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

Although the bill passed 14-1 in the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee (Miami Gardens Democrat Barbara Watson was the lone dissenter), several members said the bill needed to be strengthened moving forward before getting final approval.

Coconut Creek Democrat Kristen Diane Jacobs said that because there are now so many Uber and Lyft drivers picking up fares at Fort Lauderdale’s airport and seaport, Broward County has contemplated building staging lots to handle the excess, and seeking reimbursement. Those local negotiations “will disappear under the current structure,” she said.

Those local negotiations “will disappear under the current structure,” she said.

Jacobs also wants ride-sharing companies to place a logo on their cars as an added layer of safety.

After the successful vote, officials with both Uber and Lyft immediately issued news releases hailing the development.

“We applaud Reps. Sprowls and Grant and the subcommittee for moving forward with this important legislation,” said Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “This is the first step in implementing a uniform statewide approach to ride-sharing that fosters innovation and stimulates Florida’s economy. We look forward to working with the Legislature as it continues to advance rules that prioritize public safety and expand consumer choice for all Floridians.”

“The bipartisan vote today on HB 221 by the Florida House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee is the first step toward ensuring ride-sharing has a permanent place in Florida,” said Javi Correoso, public affairs manager for Uber Florida. “Uber has become an integral part of local transportation systems, and this legislation will help expand opportunities to better connect communities.

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America also applauded Wednesday’s vote.

“Many rideshare drivers operate under their personal auto insurance policy, which will not cover them if they are in an accident while using their vehicle for hire,” said Logan McFaddin, PCI’s regional manager for State Government Relations. “HB 221 brings much-needed clarity and consistency to insurance coverage requirements for TNC drivers in Florida and strikes the right balance between protecting consumers and supporting innovation.”

The bill now needs only to go through the Government Accountability Committee before heading to the House floor.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring the Senate version (SB 340), where similar legislation died in 2016.

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